12. Church Going Through a Pastor’s Fall
Over thirty years ago,when my sins were exposed, several men discussed with me the possibility of taking a leave of absence and eventually returning to the pulpit. At the time it was the only thing I had to hold onto. In some ways it gave me hope, although false hope. It made sense to me at the time. I was a good preacher. I was a good pastor in many ways. I had helped the church improve in many areas. A leave of absence made sense to me. Now these many years later, I will tell you honestly that it really makes no sense at all. Most of the time (if not all of the time) a leave of absence for moral failures makes no sense whatsoever. Let me share with you some thoughts regarding this.
1. Credibility is a very important part of pastoring. A pastor with a moral failure has destroyed his credibility with his people. Perhaps he can pastor again, but not at the same church. His moral failings have disqualified him from being trusted by those who had trusted him and who he betrayed.
2. Sometimes the position itself is dangerous to the man. I miss pastoring. I really do. There have been times when I have thought I could go out and start a church and probably be successful. I have always come to the conclusion that it is not a good place for me to be. I believe that some men are better out of the pastorate, than we are in it. I doubt most pastors would ever admit to that, but I believe it’s true. There are some men who just don’t belong in that position. It changes them, so they are better off not pastoring.
3. Often a moral failing is a priority failure as well. A man has placed his ministry above his marriage. He has placed his “success” as a pastor above his walk with God and the purity in his life. Sometimes it is best that we step aside to concentrate on getting and keeping our priorities straight and let others take that position.
4. For a man to take a leave of absence minimizes the severity of the sins. Let’s face it, a man who is going to take a leave of absence is going to do his best to minimize the severity of the sins in his life. Usually there is more there than meets the eye. A leave of absence often times leaves less room for repentance. There are more sins under the surface that people have not seen. Knowing that he is possibly going to return to the pulpit will tempt him to cover the other sins. I have seen this happen time and time again by men who took a leave of absence after being caught in a moral failure. Later, other sins were exposed. I think it’s best that a man step aside and not even make an attempt to return as pastor of that church.
5. Wanting to take a leave of absence is often an act of selfish desperation. I know for me it was. I did not want to lose what I had. I was afraid of the unknowns before me. My faith was in my position, more than in God. I was not thinking about what was best for the people I had hurt, but what was best for me.
6. Perhaps a leave of absence from the position of pastor is a possibility, but the return should remain openended. I do not believe that a man should be told that he could be back in the position in a certain period of time. I am not referring to the position in the same church, but the position of pastor anywhere. Usually, a timetable is a dangerous thing. If a man is going to pastor again, he should should go through a process and wait for God to open a door for him to pastor again. In fact, the door should be open only by God and not by men.
7. It is dangerous and foolish even for someone to return to the pastorate too quickly after a moral failing. Slow down my friend. Let God do a work in your life and wait for God to lead you where he wants you to be. Moral failures are not hiccup sins. They are a sign of major problems and must be dealt with carefully and deliberately.
8. Returning to the pastorate may bring heartache. I have heard stories of pastors, who after returning to a position of pastor faced terrible attacks. Some were so hurt and bitter that their lives became of no use whatsoever. Their families were forced to relive what had happened years before. Had they been content to stay in a position behind the scenes, they would have been exposed to far less scrutiny and thus fewer attacks. Be careful, you may get what you want and then wish you didn’t have it.
Pastoring is something that can get into your blood. I miss it, but, sometimes a leave of absence should be permanent. That said, we should always restore someone to fullservice for God. That does not mean the position of pastor. Perhaps we have elevated the position of pastor as too preeminent. A pastor is merely a man in a position of service for God. Having the title does not make him a better man. Not having the title does not make one a lesser man. Be careful not to elevate the position too highly.
In conclusion, I know men who were out of the pastorate for many years and have recently returned. I applaud them. I am glad to see them there. I see in them a humility that I did not see before. I am glad that you have returned to that position. As for me, I doubt that it will ever be right, but I rejoice for those who have had the opportunity to return.